Four Ages of Understanding

Four Ages of Understanding: The First Postmodern Survey of Philosophy from Ancient Times to the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

Copyright Date: 2001
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    Four Ages of Understanding
    Book Description:

    The first full-scale demonstration of the centrality of the theory of signs to the history of philosophy and a new vantage point from which to review and reinterpret the development of intellectual culture at the threshold of globalization.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7503-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Aviso: Why Read This Book? (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Table of Contents (pp. ix-x)
  4. Contents in Detail (pp. xi-xxiii)
  5. List of Tables and Illustrations (pp. xxiv-xxvi)
  6. Reconocimientos (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  7. Preface: The Boundary of Time (pp. xxix-2)
    John Deely
  8. CHAPTER ONE Society and Civilization: The Prelude to Philosophy (pp. 3-14)

    What has long been called “philosophy” is obscure in its origins. So far as historical records go, philosophy is associated most specifically with the Greek language of the sixth century before Christ. The etymology of the name “philosophy” is not especially helpful: it is a putting together of the ancient Greek words for “lover” and “wisdom”. To say, then, that philosophy is “love of wisdom” does not really get us very far. To get the beginnings of an idea of what the term “philosophy” means, let us look at what the earliest human beings called philosophers did that led to...

    • CHAPTER TWO Philosophy as Physics (pp. 17-41)

      Φύσις is the Greek word for nature. Nature was the Greek term for the environmental world which surrounds us, antecedes us, and upon which we depend. The Greek idea of a “science” or knowledge of nature, thus, is enshrined, down to this day, in the name “physics”. To a large extent, this was the first name of philosophy. Interested in the realm of nature as a whole, the earliest philosophers took initially no special interest in one particular phenomenon of nature, the$\sigma \eta \mu \epsilon \hat{\iota }o\nu$. There was good reason for this. One of the ways in which Greek civilization differed from...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Golden Age: Philosophy Expands Its Horizon (pp. 42-92)

      Three names define the Golden Age of ancient philosophy: Socrates, c.469–399bc; Plato, c.427–348/7bc; and Aristotle, 384–322bc. Plato was a student of Socrates. Aristotle, in turn, born when Plato was forty-three, became a student of Plato, and studied for some twenty years in Plato’s Academy before founding his own school, the Lyceum. Like Pythagoras, both Plato and Aristotle had esoteric and exoteric teachings. But, by a perversity of history, in the case of Plato only the polished exoteric writings have come down to us, while in the case of Aristotle, since at least the time of Cicero (106–...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Final Greek Centuries and the Overlap of Neoplatonism with Christianity (pp. 93-158)

      The work of Plato and Aristotle was so successful that the Academy and the Lyceum that they had respectively founded became permanent institutions in Athenian life. Speusippus, rather than Aristotle, had succeeded Plato to head the Academy in 347bc, and was succeeded in turn by Xenocrates who was the head from 339–314bc. In 343bc Aristotle had founded the Lyceum, where his pupil Theophrastus succeeded him in 322bc. So successful were these schools as institutions that, in 307bc, a state decree was issued that required the approval of the Assembly for the future heads of these two philosophical schools.


  10. Part II THE LATIN AGE:
    • CHAPTER FIVE The Geography of the Latin Age (pp. 161-211)

      As the human mind needs a brain to function and the human body a place to be, so philosophy – or at least those who create the languages which express it – has a geography, a region where it comes to expression. In its first florescence on this planet, as we have seen, the geography and language of philosophy was more or less that of Greece, beginning with Ionia. Its second great florescence was to a great extent – not completely, but largely – isolated from the original Greek florescence, and found its expression in those nations of the West...

    • CHAPTER SIX The So-Called Dark Ages (pp. 212-250)

      Three “set-ups” in particular from the ancient world determined how philosophy would be put into play in the Latin Age. The first was the “praeteritio” of Porphyry, which would occasion the famous “controversy over universals”. The second was the difficulties Aristotle experienced in getting clear about the uniqueness of relation as a category of philosophical thought and mode of being both objective and physical, which would occasion Boethius’s introduction into the Latin mainstream of the distinction between transcendental and ontological relation. The third was the novel introduction by Augustine of Hippo of the general idea of sign as superior to...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Cresting a Wave: The Second Stage (pp. 251-363)

      To say that the later Latin Age is inaugurated by the advent of something like the completecorpusof Aristotle’s works in translation risks an exaggeration in the student’s mind of the influence of this work on the creativity and genius of the period. Had Aristotle remained unknown, there would still have been a flowering of this period. Anyone who thinks that the principal authors of the period can be reduced to the influence of ancient sources is on a dead-end trail. What counts with minds of genius is always what they do with their sources, and to this end...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Fate of Sign in the Later Latin Age (pp. 364-410)

      We are near the end of the thirteenth century, still a full three centuries from the clear onset of modernity, and with nearly six centuries to cross before reaching the frontiers of postmodern times. How to cover the closing three hundred years of the Latin Age? We could follow the well-beaten traditional path of carrying our discussion of the Latins beyond Aquinas only as far as Scotus (c.1266–1308) and Ockham (c.1285–1349), then jump with a single bound to Descartes (1596–1650) and classical modern philosophy. Established academic custom would more than justify such a procedure: it sanctions it....

    • CHAPTER NINE Three Outcomes, Two Destinies (pp. 411-446)

      After Soto and the Parisian nominalists, what remains to be considered in the subjection to scrutiny of Augustine’s proposal is the second part of the definition of sign, the heart of the matter, the crucial “reference to” or “standing for another”. On this discussion hangs the fate of Augustine’s assumption that there is asignum“in general”, that there is communication over the divide between physical nature and the human Umwelt, and between Innenwelt and Umwelt, and that the vehicle which shuttles across and transcends this divide is the sign according to a being proper and unique to itself, whence...

    • CHAPTER TEN The Road Not Taken (pp. 447-484)

      A great thinker is, willy-nilly, a man of his time. Whether he looks forward or backward in his thought, he does so inevitably through the filter of contemporary eyes – his own. And what he sees is perforce tinted by that filter of experience. Breathing the air of his period, he cannot help but imbibe something of its aspirations, whether to further them or to oppose them, as the case may be. Before leaving the Latin Age for the fresh pure air of modernity, let take a last closer look at the case of the semiotic of John Poinsot, to...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Beyond the Latin Umwelt: Science Comes of Age (pp. 487-510)

      The objective world of the human being is as much a selection of physical stimuli and reorganization of the features of the environment thus made objectified or known as is the objective world of any animal. This situation is by force of circumstance, a simple consequence of the fact that we are biological organisms with sensory organs that detect some things and not others, and with a biological nature that finds some things in the environment suitable and desirable and others not. Thus, we live first of all in a world which is determined in its objective structure, on the...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE The Founding Fathers: René Descartes and John Locke (pp. 511-539)

      Henri Bergson used to speak of a “natural geometry of the human intellect” in order to explain the resistance of people to seeing the development of things in time. Whether there is such a “natural geometry” or not, it is certain that Descartes, in founding modern philosophy, had an aversion to history, and considered it in general an obstacle to philosophical understanding. Philosophical understanding, thought Descartes, could only be obtained by a mind turning within itself, away from the senses, where the mind might find, in the soul itself, an absolute certitude which could then become the foundation for building...

    • CHAPTER 13 Synthesis and Successors: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (pp. 540-589)

      In December 1885, almost nineteen years after the obscure birth of philosophy’s postmodern era in the publication of the “New List of Categories” by Charles Sanders Peirce and eight years before his own demise, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94) penned in effect an unwitting epitaph for philosophy’s modern period. The celebrated story-teller cast the epitaph in order to relate the “strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. As its title provides the epitaph, so the story itself provides the metaphor for what proved to be, after Galileo, the strange indeed relation into which philosophy entered with the new development...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Locke Again: The Scheme of Human Knowledge (pp. 590-608)

      Now here is a surprise: an unexpected answer from a non-logician to a question logicians had not been able to resolve satisfactorily for more than twenty-two centuries, and a decisive clarification of the role of logic in the tradition of liberal arts education some eleven centuries after that tradition was initiated.¹ Just such were the unwitting implications of the manner in which Locke brought his celebratedEssayof 1690 to a close with a proposal so anomalous with the body of the work it concluded and the times in which it was written that no one along the way of...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Charles Sanders Peirce and the Recovery of Signum (pp. 611-668)

      There is a group of authors, mostly French at the core, with a surrounding cadre of literary types, who fancy themselves “postmodern”, the inventors of the term, and proprietors of its copyright.¹ They tell us that postmodernism has done away with linear time and linear argument, and shows at the heart of every text a void. The argument of these authors comes down to a single insight, which, being thorough heirs of modernity, they hardly know how to express. If we were to loan them a term from the discussions of their Latin forebears, they might see that their founding...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Semiology: Modernity’s Attempt to Treat the Sign (pp. 669-688)

      Modern philosophy did not slip quietly into the night. As paganism took its final stand in Neoplatonism, so modern philosophy in the matter of the sign took a final stand in the one successful scientific treatment of signs produced in late-modern times, theCours de linguistique générateof Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), a work developed in a series of lectures only between 1906 and 1911, and then brought to a posthumous publication in 1916 by three of his students using from the lectures both Saussure’s notes and their own.

      This work from Saussure is a marvel. It is one...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN At the Turn of the Twenty-first Century (pp. 689-734)

      With semiology, the “tidal wave of nominalism”¹ was almost spent, and the doctrine of signs in its post-Latin guise could begin in earnest. Like every intellectual progression, this one too was ambiguous in the actual social life of the times incubating its progression. It took many years even for Peirce to realize clearly and definitely that pragmaticism was not pragmatism. So it took many years for the intellectual workers interested in sign to achieve a conscious realization that semiotics was not semiology.

      We are, as we noted in closing the last chapter, standing here on the boundary of history as...

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Beyond Realism and Idealism: Resumé and Envoi (pp. 735-742)

      Bernard Lonergan, in describing the strategy I have followed in writing this book, but without suspecting that it was semiotics (and anthroposemiosis) about which he wrote, mused as follows: “Thoroughly understand what it is to understand, and not only will you understand the broad lines of all there is to be understood but also will you possess a fixed base, an invariant pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding”;¹ for “the known is extensive, but the knowing is a recurrent structure that can be investigated sufficiently in a series of strategically chosen instances”, and while “the known is incomplete...

  13. Historically Layered References (pp. 743-834)
  14. Gloss on the References (pp. 835-836)
  15. Index RERUM ET PERSONARUM (pp. 837-1014)
  16. Timetable of Figures (pp. 1015-1019)

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